In short, you can't tell the difference. You'll want to have the flooring tested by an Asbestos Abatement Company. IF you're interested in the home AND if the test returns NEGATIVE, then put that in your P & S Agreement. If you want the house but don't care about the results, then you can simply have the material tested after you buy.
Most Contractors want to 'encapsulate' the flooring because it's no fun to remove. That's OK BUT, these days, the laws are changing around the country that you MAY have to 'disclose' on a Disclosure Agreement whether or not there's asbestos in the house, or not. The flooring asbestos is non-friable (as opposed to the 'stuff' you hear that's wrapped around heating pipes that is friable.) Friable means it can become airborn 'to the touch'. Non-friable means the asbestos is 'within' the material and has to be made friable to pose a DIRECT threat. That's why you don't use any saws when cutting up flooring that's been determined to have asbestos in it! (And so on ...)
You should have the home inspected by an ASHI-Approved Home Inspector. They won't be able to tell you if the floor contains asbestos BUT at least you will have hired someone to look after YOUR interests. The Seller's Realtor is looking after the Seller's interest; NOT yours. (That's why there are Buyer Agents nowadays ...) You should also hire a Real Estate Attorney to look after your interests. You know, with all the mortgages the banks sell, they STILL have an attorney look over the paperwork. You don't think for a moment the bank is going to let someone take advantage of them, do you? An inspector and attorney should cost less than $1,000. That's cheap compared to the 100's or 1000's of $$$ you'll be spending for the next 30 years (give or take.)
Soooo, for an idea of what it would cost to have the flooring tested, visit Asbestos Testing Site in California. (I'm not suggesting you use them - It's just a sample WEB site.) For testing companies in your area, look in the YELLOW PAGES under ASBESTOS ABATEMENT COMPANIES. And if they don't do the actual testing, ask them who does. Your local Health Department (municipal, county, or city department) should know.
My best to ya and hope this helps.
Jay J -Moderator
PS: There's no sure-thing that the Seller will even let you have a sample ...